When Bad Things Happen in the World

Quote from Martin Luther King "Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hatred, only love can do that."

Image thanks to Good Housekeeping


“Together” is the watchword for dealing with news of violence or death. “What can we do together, as a family, to remember those who died, and offer our caring?” is a healing question.

Patty Wipfler, Hand in Hand Parenting



I don’t tend to listen to or watch the news, but sometime on Saturday a couple of weeks ago it filtered through that something dreadful had happened somewhere in the world.

On Sunday, I woke knowing that it was serious, and that I would need some time to talk about how it makes me feel – how lucky am I, how easily it could happen in the city where I live, that my sense of safety in the world is dented.  The horror of imagining what it must be like to have been caught in the middle of it, the senseless waste and carnage, the anguish, shock.

I deliberately did not allow myself to listen to details about the event:  I’m pretty sure that I do not need to know.  I get the gist.  Things in the world are not good.

However, my mind was pulled to it all day.  In the evening, I met with a group of people and we took a short time, in pairs, just to listen in turn to one another about these events.  We cried about how shocking it was, we talked through the details of what we had seen on the news, we feared for our safety, we worried for our children.  Then, we went on with what we had planned to meet for.

It would have made no sense to keep going over the top of the feelings. And taking time to pay attention to, and feel, the feelings does not mean that there is not thinking to be done, and work, to fix things.  But the flood of feelings that comes up at a time like this can easily overwhelm us, drag us down and away from the thing we planned to do, and the things we could do to make the world a better place.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that on that Sunday morning I woke remembering the families I lived with until recently.  Having lived in the middle of a large Muslim community,  I know that these days will be hard for them – as they try to make their way through the challenges of parenting and working, afraid that they will be vilified, harassed, attacked in the name of their religion.  I remembered the movement that began last year after the Sydney seige – #Illridewithyou – where people offered to sit next to Muslims they saw on public transport, to support them in the face of the abuse they might receive, so they could feel safe to take the train or the bus.

As parents, we must provide the safe ground, the sureness, the balance and reassurance that our children need.  Please take the time over the next few weeks, as events unfold, to talk about these events with other adults.  But don’t just feed into each other’s fears.  Ask someone to listen to you – carefully, without comment, judgement or opinion.  Events like these shake us to our core, literally – they pull on our earliest memories of threat, safety, insecurity.

Look for the tracks back to earlier times in your life when you or your loved ones were threatened.   Times when you were small, vulnerable and could not get the help you need.  Hideous as the events over the last  few days (and months – this is not the first event of this kind) the real power they have is to throw us off-balance, to pull on our earliest anxieties, and confuse us.

Our children will be asking us about what has happened.  I’ve written elsewhere about how important it is for us to protect our children from the graphic details of this kind of event.  As adults, we can put these events into a bigger context. We know that people can and will band together to pull through. Our children don’t always have such a big picture and it makes it hard for them to make sense of what they are seeing and hearing.

It is not helpful for very young children to know all the details of a well-publicized crisis. They can’t digest exposure to such human irrationality, senseless violence and suffering.  And they are affected by the way the adults around them are reacting. Often, these reactions can make them feel unsafe.

How to talk to our children about this?  My daughter had heard about it from her friends.  This is how the conversation went this morning, as I turned off the radio as she came into the room.

“I already know about what happened, mum.  You don’t need to turn the radio off.”

“Well, honey, we aren’t going to learn any more from the radio.  We know what we need to know.  Something terrible has happened.  It’s been happening for a while actually, not just to the people in Paris, but to other groups of people we don’t hear so much about.”

“Why do people do this?”

“Well, there’s a way that people get set against each other, and start to fight amongst themselves, instead of noticing what is really going on.  The fact is that in this world, there are some people and organisations which accumulate the wealth of the world, and others who are left terribly, terribly poor.  We end up fighting amongst ourselves, finding groups to hate.  But the real problems – why are people poor, why are we not looking after the planet, these things don’t get so much attention.

And as well as that, some people are vulnerable – they get hurt, and they don’t get listened to and they don’t get to heal from that hurt.  They end up somehow taking that hurt out on someone else. It happens all over the place, with all sorts of groups of people, not just Muslims.”

“People say Muslims are bad.  That means they say that my friend Tanjeela (who is Muslim) at school is bad”

“Well, one of the best things we can do is make friends with people from the groups we are told are bad, or scary, or dangerous.  That way, we learn that people are good.  There are still some hurt people out there, doing bad things, but if we have friends, we can stand up together and stop that.”

“I’m going to make sure I sit next to Tanjeela.  I think she will need help today.”

So, dear parents, take time for yourself, and by so doing, inspire your children.  And turn off the news.

You will find more specific information and links to helping children exposed to shocking events, and assisting children with their fears, HERE.



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